11. Walk Slowly, but Never Backward
he was surprised to find that all the best photos were produced by the quantity group.
while, the quality group sat around speculating about perfection.
It is easy to get bogged down trying to find the optimal plan for change.
We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action. As Voltaire once wrote, “The best is the enemy of the good.”.
motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure.
Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism.
If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection.
HOW LONG DOES IT ACTUALLY TAKE TO FORM A NEW HABIT?
Hebb’s Law: “Neurons that fire together wire together.”
the hippocampus decreased in size when a driver retired. Like the muscles of the body responding to regular weight training, particular regions of the brain adapt as they are used and atrophy as they are abandoned.
“In learning to speak a new language, to play on a musical instrument, or to perform unaccustomed movements, great difficulty is felt, because the channels through which each sensation has to pass have not become established; but no sooner has frequent repetition cut a pathway, than this difficulty vanishes; the actions become so automatic that they can be performed while the mind is otherwise engaged.”
-- George H. Lewes
One group engaged in active practice, the other in passive learning. One in action, the other in motion.
an important truth about behavior change: habits form based on frequency, not time.
The question “How long does it take to build a new habit?” should be: “How many does it take to form a new habit?”
It’s the frequency that makes the difference.
- The 3rd Law of Behavior Change is make it easy.
- The most effective form of learning is practice, not planning.
- Focus on taking action, not being in motion.
- Habit formation is the process by which a behavior becomes progressively more automatic through repetition.
- The amount of time you have been performing a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.
12. The Law of Least Effort
Conventional wisdom holds that motivation is the key to habit change. Maybe if you really wanted it, you’d actually do it. But the truth is, our real motivation is to be lazy and to do what is convenient.
Out of all the possible actions we could take, the one that is realized is the one that delivers the most value for the least effort. We are motivated to do what is easy.
Habits like scrolling on our phones, checking email, and watching television steal so much of our time because they can be performed almost without effort.
In a sense, every habit is just an obstacle to getting what you really want. Dieting is an obstacle to getting fit. Meditation is an obstacle to feeling calm. Journaling is an obstacle to thinking clearly. You don’t actually want the habit itself. What you really want is the outcome the habit delivers.
This is why it is crucial to make your habits so easy that you’ll do them even when you don’t feel like it. If you can make your good habits more convenient, you’ll be more likely to follow through on them.
The idea is to make it as easy as possible in the moment to do things that payoff in the long run.
HOW TO ACHIEVE MORE WITH LESS EFFORT
One of the most effective ways to reduce the friction associated with your habits is to practice environment design
Habits are easier to build when they fit into the flow of your life.
“Japanese firms emphasized what came to be known as ‘lean production,’ relentlessly looking to remove waste of all kinds from the production process, down to redesigning workspaces, so workers didn’t have to waste time twisting and turning to reach their tools. The result was that Japanese factories were more efficient and Japanese products were more reliable than American ones. In 1974, service calls for American-made color televisions were five times as common as for Japanese televisions. By 1979, it took American workers three times as long to assemble their sets.”
-- James Suroweicki
I like to refer to this strategy as addition by subtraction.
The Japanese companies looked for every point of friction in the manufacturing process and eliminated it.
As they subtracted wasted effort, they added customers and revenue. Similarly, when we remove the points of friction that sap our time and energy, we can achieve more with less effort.
The central idea is to create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible. Much of the battle of building better habits comes down to finding ways to reduce the friction associated with our good habits and increase the friction associated with our bad ones.
PRIME THE ENVIRONMENT FOR FUTURE USE
If you want to cook a healthy breakfast, place the skillet on the stove, set the cooking spray on the counter, and lay out any plates and utensils you’ll need the night before. When you wake up, making breakfast will be easy.
- Want to draw more? Put your pencils, pens, notebooks, and drawing tools on top of your desk, within easy reach.
- Want to exercise? Set out your workout clothes, shoes, gym bag, and water bottle ahead of time.
- Want to improve your diet? Chop up a ton of fruits and vegetables on weekends and pack them in containers, so you have easy access to healthy, ready-to-eat options during the week.
It is remarkable how little friction is required to prevent unwanted behavior. When I hide beer in the back of the fridge where I can’t see it, I drink less.
Imagine the cumulative impact of making dozens of these changes and living in an environment designed to make the good behaviors easier and the bad behaviors harder.
“How can we design a world where it’s easy to do what’s right?” Redesign your life so the actions that matter most are also the actions that are easiest to do.
- Human behavior follows the Law of Least Effort. We will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.
- Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.
- Reduce the friction associated with good behaviors. When friction is low, habits are easy.
- Increase the friction associated with bad behaviors. When friction is high, habits are difficult.
- Prime your environment to make future actions easier.
13. How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the Two-Minute Rule
She also credits much of her success to simple daily habits.
“I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweat shirt, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym"
the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.
“It’s a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habitualizes it—makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently.
It is one less thing to think about.
Yes, a habit can be completed in just a few seconds, but it can also shape the actions that you take for minutes or hours afterward.
Habits are like the entrance ramp to a highway. They lead you down a path and, before you know it, you’re speeding toward the next behavior.
Every day, there are a handful of moments that deliver an outsized impact. I refer to these little choices as decisive moments.
Your options are constrained by what’s available. They are shaped by the first choice.
We are limited by where our habits lead us. This is why mastering the decisive moments throughout your day is so important.
Habits are the entry point, not the end point. They are the cab, not the gym.
THE TWO-MINUTE RULE
“When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
- “Read before bed each night” becomes “Read one page.”
- “Do thirty minutes of yoga” becomes “Take out my yoga mat.”
- “Study for class” becomes “Open my notes.”
- “Fold the laundry” becomes “Fold one pair of socks.”
- “Run three miles” becomes “Tie my running shoes.”
the point is not to do one thing. The point is to master the habit of showing up.
If you can’t learn the basic skill of showing up, then you have little hope of mastering the finer details.
Instead of trying to engineer a perfect habit from the start, do the easy thing on a more consistent basis. You have to standardize before you can optimize.
The more you ritualize the beginning of a process, the more likely it becomes that you can slip into the state of deep focus that is required to do great things.
If the Two-Minute Rule feels forced, try this: do it for two minutes and then stop. Go for a run, but you must stop after two minutes. Start meditating, but you must stop after two minutes. Study Arabic, but you must stop after two minutes. It’s not a strategy for starting, it’s the whole thing. Your habit can only last one hundred and twenty seconds.
Journaling provides another example. Nearly everyone can benefit from getting their thoughts out of their head and onto paper, but most people give up after a few days or avoid it entirely because journaling feels like a chore. The secret is to always stay below the point where it feels like work.
“The best way is to always stop when you are going good,”
-- Ernest Hemingway
Strategies like this work for another reason, too: they reinforce the identity you want to build.
If you show up at the gym five days in a row—even if it’s just for two minutes—you are casting votes for your new identity.
You’re focused on becoming the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts.
You’re taking the smallest action that confirms the type of person you want to be.
We rarely think about change this way because everyone is consumed by the end goal.
At some point, once you’ve established the habit and you’re showing up each day, you can combine the Two-Minute Rule with a technique we call habit shaping to scale your habit back up toward your ultimate goal.
EXAMPLES OF HABIT SHAPING
Becoming an Early Riser
- Phase 1: Be home by 10 p.m. every night.
- Phase 2: Have all devices (TV, phone, etc.) turned off by 10 p.m. every night.
- Phase 3: Be in bed by 10 p.m. every night (reading a book, talking with your partner).
- Phase 4: Lights off by 10 p.m. every night.
- Phase 5: Wake up at 6 a.m. every day.
- Phase 1: Start eating vegetables at each meal.
- Phase 2: Stop eating animals with four legs (cow, pig, lamb, etc.).
- Phase 3: Stop eating animals with two legs (chicken, turkey, etc.).
- Phase 4: Stop eating animals with no legs (fish, clams, scallops, etc.).
- Phase 5: Stop eating all animal products (eggs, milk, cheese).
- Habits can be completed in a few seconds but continue to impact your behavior for minutes or hours afterward.
- Many habits occur at decisive moments—choices that are like a fork in the road—and either send you in the direction of a productive day or an unproductive one.
- The Two-Minute Rule states, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
- The more you ritualize the beginning of a process, the more likely it becomes that you can slip into the state of deep focus that is required to do great things.
- Standardize before you optimize. You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist.